An Open Letter to the Faith-based Group that Wants to Help People that are Homeless

Dear (insert name of church, temple, synagogue, mosque, etc.), In the name of (insert deity believed in/worshipped), I understand you are called upon to help humankind as a way of living your faith and putting into practice the teachings of your religion. This is most welcome, and we are grateful that you have chosen to help people that are experiencing homelessness. I am an expert in the field of homelessness, so while it is unsolicited by you, I want to take this opportunity to fill you in on ways that would be most helpful, and the stuff you may be thinking of doing that will just get in the way of what experts are trying to achieve. If you are like me, you have been in a hospital emergency room once or more in your life. I suspect you have been frustrated with wait times and wished there was someone, […] Read more »

Museums of Suffering

The tour. You have been on one or given one. You walk through a homeless shelter or day centre or spend a night on an outreach van or a morning at a soup kitchen. You see the things that go on there. You meet the people – the program participants, residents and clientele; the staff; the volunteers. When these same buildings and programs are anchored in more traditional models rather than being focused on rapid exit from homelessness into housing they become, by definition, homelessness as a museum – objects of historical, scientific, artistic or cultural interest are stored and exhibited. People that experience longer term homelessness are more prone to die. At some point for the observer the question of why the person is homeless and how to end it becomes a question of when the person will pass away. They can become resigned to what they see as […] Read more »

Characteristics of an Exemplary Diversion Specialist

In training communities on effective diversion, a common question is, “What are the sort of characteristics you’d look for when hiring someone for that position?” It is a great question because it appreciates that the role is somewhat different from other roles that serve people experiencing homelessness or at imminent risk of losing housing. Here are some thoughts.   They should be an extraordinary problem solver who is remarkably resourceful rather than whining about a lack of resources. Being solution-focused means the individual will work the problem to find a solution rather than waiting for someone else to find a resource or fix a system that is broken. I like to think of good Diversion Specialists as the Macgyver’s of the homeless and housing service delivery system – they find a way to make it work with what they have, even when it is not ideal. They need to think […] Read more »

Don’t Blame the Person Needing Service

On any given day, lots of things can irk me in the pursuit of ending homelessness. But I can say with absolute certainty that nothing bothered me more than the attempt from the USICH to define an end to veterans homelessness which essentially included a provision that if housing was offered and the person said no, that was good enough so long as the organization checked in to make sure nothing had changed. There have been formidable leaders within USICH. And to be fair, without USICH many initiatives in ending homelessness or political will would not have happened. Maybe this shortcoming is a result of pressure from other federal agencies. Maybe this shortcoming is a result of pressure to produce results before the end of the Administration. BUT, blaming a person needing services to end their homelessness is NO WAY TO END HOMELESSNESS. A reflective practitioner knows the importance of […] Read more »

Gobble, Gobble: Charity Instead of Action is for Turkeys

Over the next month – in the form of others giving thanks through charitable giving – non-profits in the homelessness and housing industry will take in a very large portion of their annual donations. Maybe it is informed gifting. But I bet a lot of it is guilt money, and the feeling that a person or organization cannot really have a great holiday season unless they make a contribution to a non-profit. Giving Tuesday seems designed (contrived?) in part to serve as a catalyst for this purpose. No matter what the reason, I am thankful that non-profits get the opportunity to fundraise, though I appreciate that movements towards ad-blocking online may make a huge chunk of this work more difficult in coming years. On very short notice, I want you to consider three questions if you are a non-profit (or the questions in parenthesis if you are the donor to […] Read more »

Get Your BS Meter and Megaphone Ready

We are just days away from Veterans Day. Get your BS meter and megaphone ready. You are about to hear many communities declare “functional zero” in ending homelessness for veterans in their community. I call BS loud. I hope and trust you have the strength and courage to do so as well. Reaching functional zero for veterans on Veterans Day is for political gain and optics. It has NOTHING to do with the work and the reality. If functional zero had really been reached, would it not make more sense to announce when it actually happened? As I have previously written, the federal benchmarks used to measure these efforts are deeply flawed. You have not ended homelessness amongst veterans if you ask them if they want housing, but they say no. That is victim blaming and cowardice. You have not ended homelessness amongst veterans if your Grant and Per Diem […] Read more »

Drop Ins and Day Shelters in the Era of Coordinated Entry

Much discussion in communities has been focused on shelters, street outreach, and the match to support and housing options as communities have focused on implementing coordinated entry. Where drop-ins, day shelters, and other types of programming during daytime hours fits in is worthy of exploration. One of the challenges to figuring out the role for the likes of drop-ins and feeding programs is that they often serve both homeless and precariously housed households. This is a challenge because with the former group we should be able to figure out intentional engagement and assessment strategies, whereas with the latter group the focus is going to be on maintaining housing stability through various strategies. One way (though rarely feasible or preferred by service providers) is to separate population groups: some drop-ins and feeding programs only serve people experiencing homelessness, while others only serve people that are precariously housed. Another way is to […] Read more »

The Homeless Service System Was Never Intended to Solve All Housing Problems

The homeless service delivery system in your community was never intended to solve ALL housing problems. It is NOT the low-income housing system. If the homeless service system tries to take care of affordable housing needs of low-income persons at the same time as addressing the housing needs of homeless persons, it is too much to handle. Prioritization of resources becomes difficult, if not impossible. Preference is likely to be given to those where their “only issue” is seen as their poverty. Waiting lists will become so large they will become meaningless and result in absolutely no meaningful action. Uproar and dissatisfaction will continue with the state of homelessness. The rate of economic poverty is always greater than the rate of homelessness, therefore homeless people are at a chronic disadvantage in this type of design.   It is NOT the seniors housing system. If the homeless service system tries to […] Read more »

“How’s that going to impact your housing?”

“How’s that going to impact your housing?” It is one of the most important questions we should repeatedly ask the people we support as they develop and operationalize their support plan. Let’s say a head of a household declares they want to look for employment. The question to ask? “How’s that going to impact your housing?” Let’s say a middle aged single man declares he wants to seek out treatment for his addiction. The question to ask? “How’s that going to impact your housing?” Let’s say a woman is working to regain custody of her children that had been taken into care. The question to ask? “How’s that going to impact your housing?” I could go on. It is not, obviously, the only question to ask. But it is a question that is very important to ask whenever changes in life circumstance or context are afoot. Yes, people can and […] Read more »

The Reason for Your Faith-Based Service

A friend recently told me that my message of working on housing as the first goal, avoiding a focus on sobriety first as a necessary step in order to access housing, and a very secular approach to addressing homelessness was not met favorably by some leaders within large faith-based homeless-focused ministries. I am a little troubled by that given I have very positive relations with a lot of faith-based groups that offer services and housing to homeless and formerly homeless persons. It got me thinking about what the distinctions are between various groups that do what they do in the name of Jesus Christ (same guy, I think, with different interpretations of who He was and what He wants of humanity) and why some faith-based groups would welcome my message and others feel threatened by it. [As an aside, I am well aware that other faith groups are involved in […] Read more »

Job, Career or Vocation?

HOWDY READERS – I AM OFF THIS WEEK FOR SOME SELF-CARE. THINKING ABOUT THAT INSPIRED THIS BLOG ABOUT JOBS, CAREERS and VOCATIONS. ENJOY!   I’ve had jobs – and probably you have too – that were only about doing something for someone else in order to get paid. I have some great stories from some of those jobs (especially summer jobs during undergrad years). But when I have had jobs in my life, time off was critical – from milking every coffee break to downtime on the weekends to vacation time. I’ve had career stops when I was truly a careerist. In those times in my life a lot of what I was involved in was not as much about the content of the tasks (though I did like a lot of what I did), but more about how far I could get up the ladder and how fast. It […] Read more »

Wow – That is a Big Number

This is a short, supplemental blog to acknowledge the amazing achievement that the 100K Homes Campaign and the Campaign Communities reached today, announcing that the goal has been surpassed (101,628 of which over 30,000 were Veterans). Whether your community participated in the campaign or not, you need to learn from what they were able to accomplish. Others may outline this better than I, but here is what I have taken away from the experience:   Have steadfast fixity of purpose and don’t waiver from it. Set a target that stretches you beyond your comfort zone. Appreciate that imperfect action trumps perfect planning…much is to be learned from the art of doing. Put together a kick-ass leadership team. Create excitement amongst service providers and celebrate their awesomeness and leverage their expertise. Don’t lose sight of the people that you serve…the homeless persons that receive housing. Prioritize who gets housed rather than […] Read more »